Win a $1000 Education Scholarship – Casting Call for our Upcoming Restaurant Leadership Documentary

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Are you passionate about working in the restaurant industry?

Tell us why your story should be featured in Back To Basics – A documentary project about the heart of the US restaurant industry

Submit a short video of yourself and tell us why you are the restaurant industry’s next leader.  If your story is selected, you will receive a $1000 education scholarship for further advancement in the restaurant industry.

www.backtobasicsthefilm.com

The Restaurant Operator – in 1946 – And now here we are, 66 years later. ($2B to $688B in sales in 66 years)

I am so deep into my documentary project, Back To Basics.  I love it!  It’s a wonderful project.  So many stories to be told, and so many opportunities abound in the fantastic restaurant industry.  Thing is, it’s BIG and getting BIGGER!  Much bigger.  It needs more now.

I am learning an incredible amount about the history of our industry.  The explosive growth. The environmental impact of our industry.  The early entrepreneurs.  Ah…. the early entrepreneurs.  We owe them so much.  They were real pioneers.

Well, I can see clearly these days.  The restaurant business offers many opportunities to anyone who chooses it as their life’s work.  It’s always been that way.  Full of opportunity.  Check out this film from 1946 that we found.  It’s fantastic in a simple most basic way.

Over the last few months, we have had some wonderful developments for this project.  As you may know, we are donating the proceeds to the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation’s Prostart program  A very important program for our future.  We must invest in our youth.  We must show them a path to success.  We must act now as a community.  That will be the only way that we can build a sustainable business.

13 Million American Workers; 688 Billion Dollars plugged into the economy.  Yes, the restaurant industry is very, very important.  Don’t fool yourself.  It’s a BIG part of American Culture and it needs to be preserved if it is to survive.

Here is a snippet of what the film will be about:

I’d like to start by introducing you to Lorenzo Torres a young man who grew up on the streets of Dallas, TX and was yearning to capture the Great American Dream but didn’t quite know how to go about it.  As we follow Lorenzo’s life we experience his struggle as he seeks and finds his inspiration from 15 of the greatest leaders this industry has to offer.

(See the prospectus Here)

We watch as he navigates the minefields of corporate america, we listen as he learns the valuable lessons of success from those who have set the industry standards and we feel his joy as he works his way towards greatness of his own.
This film is a celebration of the Restaurant industry who has had many voices carrying torches – some soft/some loud – some positive/ much negative, especially from those voices from the outside the industry.  Yes, our industry has been given a bad wrap by the external media.
This is an inside story that will positively travel beyond our four walls, the definitive industry documentary – the first, first-class take – on what it takes to succeed in this business.
Through the use of preeminent restaurant professionals as engaging “storytellers” with additional historical perspectives, we will reveal a tale of affirming “life recipes” that give hope and inspiration to current and future generations of industry students, our co-workers and industry clients, leaving no doubt that no matter where you find yourself, the restaurant industry has always, and forever will be, home to great beginnings and second chances – home to the The American Dream.

Well, there are 35 people working hard on this project (all volunteers)  and our community  has an incredible opportunity here.  These volunteers have brought the project to life and we are ready to roll cameras.  The thing is, we need to be realistic about funding it properly now, if we want to do it with big hollywood resources.   So we do it right.  It’s only going to happen once.  And although, we can ‘bootstrap it’, my guts are telling me not to do that, but in fact to rally our village for some help.  The power of the group will yield us a far better result.  So, consider this.

This “vision” of bringing the restaurant industry to life began as a small twinkle in my eye and knowing me as you do, you know how I can take a single idea and grow it to something great  just by shear strength of will.

But strength of will alone will not get this job done, so I need your help.  I have consulted  a very talented Los Angeles-based director, producer and writer who produces television shows (60 Minutes), and directs non-profit documentaries and films,  to take this film to the next level and make it an industry icon for the ages forward.   By doing this, we have raised the project to a whole new level.  One that not even I could have conceived.  Yes, this is a Hollywood film now.  We have access to the most professional, talented people in the world of film making.  And if we are certain, we will jump on this.  Anything less now, will not be putting our best foot forward.
With that opportunity, comes a team of professional film makers to get this done right.  Thing is, it’s no longer a basement project.  It’s going to take some money and muscle and  I cannot manage it myself.  I need support.  So, like any leader, I am just simply asking for help.  I read somewhere that great leaders do that.  They ask for help when they need it.
 
I wish to reach out to our entire restaurant community to help me finish this film.  
In the weeks to come, we are opening a bank account for donations at NRAEF, and if you are interested in making a financial contribution to this cause, you will become part of this historical project.  
No donation is too small, and we will have a few key spots open for major sponsorship of the project.

Well, the thing is….. It’s big.  Bigger than all of us.  And to do it right, it needs support.  So, to that end, I have decided to open up the opportunity to our entire community to help fund this very important project.  The funding will go towards the film and all of the expenses required to produce it.  All donations will be provided tax receipts through the NRAEF and funds will be earmarked for the production of Back To Basics – The future of the US restaurant industry in a global economy.

Check out the prospectus here.

In addition we will be offering a few Top Level Sponsorships for the project which will get your company the following:
 
*Placement in the credits of the film
*Exclusive Sponsorship of one or more marketing events leading up to the premiere
*A special invitation to a Red Carpet Industry Star Studded Private Screening to coincide with the NRA show ( 2014) 
*An ad in a quarterly update to our followers, supporters and more importantly of all our CEO Storytellers. 
*A special Thank You Plaque to be presented to you by one of our superstars at our premiere event
*Mention in press releases and PR campaigns 

I hope you will join me on my mission to complete this project.  Your donations will be managed by the NRAEF, through their 501(c)3.    Also,  you can reach Marla Topliff, the president of Rosati’s Pizza to learn more about the benefits of your financial support.

In conclusion, what started off as a tiny idea, has now blossomed into a wonderful hollywood opportunity and all the net proceeds of this film will be going to support Prostart in our community.  Because of the size of this opportunity, I can’t do it alone.  It takes a community.  Please let me know if you or your company would be willing to help.

To get the ball rolling, Panera Bread, through the trust and kindness of Ron Shaich,  has contributed $10,000 already and MonkeyMedia Software has contributed $5,000.

Send me a note at erle@monkeymediasoftware.com or call me at 604-831-7422 anytime if you have any questions or if you’d like more details.  I hope you will consider helping us to bring this project to the finish line.  Together we can achieve more.

Thanks for considering…..

A film for anyone that has ever eaten at, worked in or run a restaurant! – Back To Basics

I’m getting ready for a two week road trip for my real job.  As CEO of MonkeyMedia Software.

Road trips are always tough, but worth it.  I get to work with our clients which is what I enjoy most in my professional life.  Fixing and improving businesses.  In my case, I use the strategy of off premise catering as my toolbox to help our clients.

But, that’s not why I am so excited.  No.

What has really got me excited, are the wonderful developments of our Documentary Film, Back to Basics.  The project is fantastic, the people are amazing and the vision is coming together beautifully.  I am not going to explain in this blog post.  But, I am posting a “DRAFT” of the film prospectus below.

It’s close to final, but I left it as a “DRAFT”, because every day, something new and exciting is happening with this project.  But, I can’t say more, YET!  Stay tuned and drop me a line when you read the prospectus here and let me know your thoughts.

This project is close to my heart, and based on where it is today, I am pinching myself!  Anything is possible!!! You just have to put your mind to it.  Thank you to everyone who is supporting this project.  Read the film prospectus by clicking on the link below.

Back To Basis Prospectus

 

Safe Travels!

Back to Basics – the film

This is the post that inspired our film, Back to Basics. Check it out at http://www.backtobasicsthefilm.com

I originally wrote this entry about 8 months ago. It was inspired through a visit that I made to a very large public company in the restaurant community. I left the name of the organization off the post, so as not to make anyone feel bad. But truth be told, I left their facilities feeling very sad. I hope you enjoy the post below:

Journal Entry – August, 2011

I am so fortunate to have been provided the opportunity to serve as CEO at MonkeyMedia Software.

It’s my job to provide direction for the company, to help steer it to a hopeful but uncertain victory.

I get to meet great leaders and the people they serve. In each case, in companies both large and small, there are fantastic people trying so hard to please their customers, their managers and their owners. Everyone is working hard.

As I travel to boardrooms, I am amazed at the cultural differences that differ from company to company.

Many of these companies have been hit hard during these recessionary times. Yes, the food business has suffered in recent times.

I find it so interesting, that when a business is in decline, and cost cutting continues to be one of the main initiatives, the fear that is cultivated for the surviving members of the team is overbearing. Devastating, scary and quite frightening really. Emotions run high, work is piled on, and projects are under-resourced. Hiring freezes paralyze them; is anything getting done?

You can walk down the hallowed halls of these buildings, that were once filled with entrepreneurial spirit, the culture of growth and a true belief system. As the years have passed, Wall Street has stepped in. Although we should also feel grateful to Wall Street for providing us with financial vehicles for growth, I feel that at the same time, it is appropriate for us to be angry with them for killing the entrepreneurial spirit while focused on shareholder value.

After all, during these last 6 or 7 decades of growth our ancestors had to believe, right? Otherwise, how did they get up in the morning and go to work? Their passion was alive! Where else do you get the fuel from if not from believing? Wasn’t it hard times for them too? Hasn’t it always been hard?

For me, it is sad to see the “ghosts in the walls.” The words and images of a growing culture. One that had direction, hope and prospects for the “sky is the limit”.

As I walk down some of these halls, the once vibrant philosophical management style, has now turned over 3 times in recent years. You can sense that the mission statement so proudly displayed on the walls during the building years, are now just empty words in this time of decline. Nobody even reads the words. They are just invisible and part of the background noise. The words are not relevant, not being lived. The management teams in their ivory towers have stopped walking the talk. They have simply focused on share price, with no sense of any real higher purpose. It’s not their fault really because they too are just trying to feed their families. They are people too. Victims of Wall Street as well. They are forced to abandon suffering markets and focus on new growth opportunities overseas. Shouldn’t they fix their challenges at home first? Don’t they have a responsibility to their adoring brand fans? Their employees and franchisees? The people who have mortgaged their homes and depend on the success of these businesses? Where is their moral compass?

I feel as if the words I am reading on the walls, were written by past leaders who are now just “Ghosts in the Walls.” Just ghosts. Not the haunted kind; just the forgotten kind.

Well, I can tell you, there are companies that are trying hard to fix themselves. Leadership with new blood. Even so the battle is uphill as the future remains so uncertain. But hasn’t it always been uncertain? Isn’t that just the way it is? After all, nothing good can last just as nothing bad can last. It is forever changing.

One thing that worries me. We are forgetting all the good people who came before us in these workplaces. The people who experienced the early years. The entrepreneurial years. The exciting years.

And so, now that times are tougher, we sometimes remain disrespectful to our ancestors. The ghosts in the wall, as I see it. These people of the past made great contributions. They were relevant in their time. They worked hard, just like you and I. Their stories were bought by Wall Street who used their brand equity to grow bigger. But at what expense?

So why is it that instead of setting market trends, we don’t have the guts? We accept that the economy is bad and that there is nothing we can do about it. So, we show up to work, hoping it will change on its own, or even worse, we think new leadership will know what to do. We watch as they run for the hills and open new stores in emerging markets because Wall Street demands it. We follow them because we believe they know what to do.

Well guess what? They don’t know what to do! When a business is sick, it is sick. To bring it back to health, you have to change it; and quickly.

Well, it’s tough for anyone to fix broken companies, with broken promises. Distrust runs high.

I urge you to listen to the voices of the ghosts in the walls. That’s where the answers are. The ones that were there before you.

Our company ancestors have seen it all. They too rode the wild roller coaster of business. So, honor them. Tomorrow when you go to work, try and connect to your company ancestors. Ask THEM the hard questions.

I promise you they will tell you the answers. Just look on your walls. Read the old signs, the aging clippings and the wins and milestones that were celebrated over the years. Also, make sure you refer to the failures, there is alot to learn there. Reconnect with the culture, the passion, the spirit. The early days. Go back to the basics. It always works.

Now is the time for change. To get smarter, more committed, retrenched. How else do we manoever through the mired complexities?

As my friend Tom Feltenstein often says, change is good, you go first!

Only the entrepreneurial companies will survive. Just look at our great brands that are succeeding today. Behind each of them, is a great entrepreneurial leader. For them, there never was a “recession”. For them, it’s just a time of change, just like any other day at work. They don’t focus on share price. Just on their passion and beliefs.

They listen to and consult the ghosts in their walls.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Let’s Raise Kids to Be Entrepreneurs – Back To Basics

Well, as many of you know, my team at MonkeyMedia Software is working on a film called Back To Basics.  It started as a simple idea really.  Inspired by my learning as an entrepreneur navigating the complex boardrooms of America’s largest restaurant corporations.

The story line is real.  It comes from personal experience.  Lucky for me, the storytellers in our film agreed.

The premise of the story is compelling.  Really compelling.  Because as our restaurant corporations are focused on increasing short-term share value, our managers have boxed themselves in.  A focus on short-term share price forces short-term thinking because the financial markets always respond positively to short-term profits.

And so, because our boardrooms are populated with highly trained business sharpshooters who are great at applying formal business academics, we may be creating a “disconnect” in our organizations.

This “disconnect” is causing an imbalance in our boardrooms.  The entrepreneurship that lives at our restaurant unit level must be recognized and nurtured.  Our restaurant community must hold responsibility to make sure that as we pursue emerging markets in other parts of the world, we in fact invest in our people at home, at the restaurant level, so that they can join tomorrow’s leaders at the highest level of our corporations.

This will result in a healthier perspective in our boardrooms of the future.  The reason we need that is to make sure we compete fiercely at home in our mature markets as we expand globally in emerging markets.  We cannot do both without putting a plan in place for our young entrepreneurs who simply have not had the opportunity to be formally trained in business.

If you would like to read the long version of the film’s premise, please visit the website for the film.  All the net proceeds from this project will be donated to the NRAEF.

I saw the video below and it really inspired me today.   I hope you enjoy it too!

Great advice from some great leaders

I am really lucky!  I mean, really lucky!  I get to work with the best in the business.  This summer, at MonkeyMedia Software we have set up our Industry Advisory Council to help guide us responsibly as our restaurant industry legitimizes the catering revenue channel, especially for multi-unit restaurant operators.  We need a lot of advice as we navigate the complex landscape of growing a world-class company.

We will be making a more formal announcement later in the year.  So watch the press for that news!

The following leaders in our community have accepted roles on our IAC and we will be adding more quality people as it makes sense for us to do so.

I am so excited to have this kind of mentorship and experience.  Talk about adding depth to the bench!  I am looking forward to serving these force-multipliers in my career.

So, these developments got me thinking.  Again.  Not about anything in particular really.  Just thinking.  How can I do my best to really tap into the experience of the people around me? These wonderful, experienced, smart and generous people? I mean, if I don’t ask the right questions, how am I going to learn from them?  Sure, they have offered to help.  But, to what end?

Then I realized, quite suddenly really, that I continue to hold the responsibility.  The responsibility of continuing to “sell and market” my vision.  Then I started reconsidering my methodology.  After all, I have been “selling” for years.  Trying to stand on a soap box bringing prospects to my side of the playground.  Always trying to make noise about new features or point out the obvious benefits.  Why is “my” product or service better than someone else’s?  There are so many great companies with great products and truth is we all have to dig down deep to differentiate.  Well, I am tired of that.  As one of the key sales resources in my organization, I cannot sell unless I believe.  That means that I have to be able to present the proper value proposition to all my stakeholders.  I could not sleep at night if I had to sell vapour.  No way.  Not a chance.

As I struggled with this concept of “selling”, it dawned on me that in today’s world, we have to do it differently.  Find better ways.  So as I asked my Industry Advisory Council for advice, lucky for me, Tom Feltenstein had these powerful words to share.  Very powerful indeed.  He sent it to me in the context of my question to him of how do we get better at sales?  Here is his response:

“….. instead, here is the much smarter, more sophisticated question:  How can I set up a system of attraction that brings a steady, reliable stream of ideal potential customers to me, asking for my advice or assistance as a trusted authority or provider in their category of interest, or even better, who are predetermined to be my customers if accepted?”

Well.  Tom got me thinking about this.  I don’t have a clear response for him yet but I am working on one.  I’ll continue to work on it.  What I can say is that as a person who believes deeply that the catering revenue channel will change the landscape of the future for the US restaurant industry, I owe all of you a “system of attraction”. I think I have started down that path.  If I hadn’t would I be where I am? Unlikely.  Saying that, how do you put it in a bottle?  One that you can carry with you all the time.

I will work on just doing a good job today and serve my stakeholders well.  I hope you do too!

Enjoy your day!

Passing The Torch – Our Next Generation of Leaders

This post is about a great person. A leader in our community who works hard for his “wins”. He deserves all the success that comes his way. He deserves it because he has worked his way to the top of his game by simply showing up to play every single day. Ladies and gentlemen, I write to you today about Jeff Drake, President of Go Roma Real Easy Italian.

However, before I tell you more about Jeff, allow me to share with you my reasons why I feel his story is so important for our next generation of leaders, specifically in our multi-unit restaurant community.

This past week, I got very lucky. I got into a car accident. Not only did I avoid major damage to my rental car and personal injury by some act of good fortune, there was also little damage to the other car as well. Thankfully, nobody got hurt and it served as a reminder to me, that life can be short. Be careful out there. Things can change quickly.

Of course, I could list a thousand reasons of why I was so lucky this past week. But that wouldn’t be interesting to anyone.

What I do think is interesting is the wisdom that was imparted to me on a phone call with one of our great leaders of the last century, Jon Luther Sr. (It was the first time we spoke). Like I said, it was a lucky week.

I tried to read everything I could get my hands on about this man’s outstanding career that has spanned decades in our multi-unit restaurant community. I wanted to call him “Sir”; but he just wouldn’t let me.

“Jon is just fine”, he told me. And so, that’s what I did. I called him Jon.

I have to share with you that my conversation with Jon was one of the most inspiring of my entire career! After all, he is one of the greatest turn-around experts that our industry has seen in the last 50 years. He has influenced and shaped organizations such as Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits, Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robins, and Delaware North. He has served in leadership positions at Marriott and Aramark and he is the current Chairman of Arby’s.

I asked for the call with Jon, because I learned about his passion for leadership. I felt compelled to share some ideas with him and because he is so generous and kind, he agreed to take my call. Like I said, it was a lucky week.

By the end of our call, Jon and I agreed (as I am sure so many of you do), that something unique and special happened in our foodservice community beginning in the middle of the last century. A generation of young leaders flourished and planted the seeds for what has become a $650 Billion industry in North America. Lucky for all of us, Jon Luther Sr. was one of those young leaders. He and his colleagues helped us to collectively become the largest employer in the private sector in North America.

So, this got me thinking. What about tomorrow’s leaders? Who are they? How will we know when we see them? Is there a way to not only spot their natural ability, but can we also groom them and nurture them in some formal method. Clearly, as a community we have enough experience to know what our leaders need to look like.

Of course, we all know that today’s great leaders such as Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Ron Shaich (Panera), Hala Moddelmog (Arby’s), Jim Vinz (Le Duff America), Dave Wolfgram (Forklift Brands), Don Fox (Firehouse Subs), Jeff O’Neill (Einstein Bros.) and Cheryl Bachelder (Popeye’s) were teenagers during the days of Ray Kroc, Ed Rensi, Jon Luther Sr., Dave Thomas, Rich Melman, and Norman Brinker.

Certainly, there are hundreds more names that I could list here. But this list is not the story. I mention these leaders to simply illustrate a point.

Jon and I discussed this idea. There are so many to talk about, to write about. Each has a story to tell and each is more amazing than the next. That’s the story! It’s the details that matter! It’s not about share price or money. It’s about amazing people doing amazing things.

Just like those before them, today’s leaders are ALL amazing. As life progresses quickly, they are becoming the next generation of mentors for those that are 10 and 20 years behind them.

“Who is coming up behind today’s leaders?” I asked Jon. “What are we doing as a community to capture their stories?” I asked.

There is a project here. An important, community based project. It’s academic. Not promotional. It’s authentic AND critical. If we don’t do it, the details will get lost. And these details are far too precious to us as a community. Because, we need to study and learn.

In the next 10 years or so, today’s leaders, will step aside for tomorrow’s leaders. That’s the way life is. I believe our community needs a thoughtful and solid succession plan. We need a qualified institution to train, nurture and develop tomorrow’s leaders for our industry. It’s important for the planet. Otherwise, we will end up with mediocre brands with little to no higher purpose.

Jon and I agreed on this idea.

And so, as Jon and I continued our discussion, we thought about the idea of “passing the torch” to future generations. We need to plan.

Just in my own network, I look at people like Al Bhakta of The Chalak Group. Watch this guy. He’s building a $1 Billion Dollar Business. Is he even forty yet? Check him out on this list of who’s who.

Think about people like Kevin Reddy (Noodles and Company), John Pepper (Boloco), John Clay (Bread and Company), and Kat Cole (Cinnabon).

Oh, there are many others as well, but the list is too long to cover in this blog post. My point is that something big needs to happen here. All of these leaders need a place to hang their hats and take part in a succession plan. It’s a community issue.

I decided to focus the balance of this essay on one very special person. Because to my good fortune, I have had the pleasurable experience of working closely with him for the last six years.

This brings me back to where I began this essay. “Passing the torch” to a great man like Jeff Drake.

“Why Jeff?” you ask. Well read on and you will see. But first, watch this video interview with Jeff. He was so busy, so engaged in his people and his work that we had to do the interview via Satellite. Great leaders like Jeff are very, very busy.

You see, just like all great leaders, Jeff Drake is a lifelong learner. More than that, he is kind, generous, smart, and he lives every single day with purpose.

Jeff began his career in our industry after graduating from college in Des Moines, Iowa. Early in his career, he worked closely with the likes of Rick Bayless at Prime Steakhouse and he learned a lot.

On his path, he met Daniel Leader, a passionate artisan bread baker and Jeff developed a passion for bread. He loved the authenticity of hand made bread. The way it tasted. The way it smelled. He was enthralled by the science and the art of artisan bread making, at a time when the artisan bread business was just a grassroots cottage based business.

To Jeff’s good fortune, he met another amazing man by the name of Dave Wolfgram. Dave was with working on a little known concept at the time, with only 4 stores. Corner Bakery was being developed under the umbrella of Lettuce Entertain You and the leadership of Rich Melman.

Well, Jeff listened and learned. And then, as they were chipping away each day, the Corner Bakery brand was transitioned to Brinker, under the leadership of another iconic man by the name of Norman Brinker.

With this transition, came a fantastic opportunity for Jeff. He was asked to head up catering! Yes, catering! It was a ground up thing. He worked on the systems, developed some IT infrastructure and built the business with Dave Wolfgram. Well, what an opportunity for such a young man to be able to work under the leadership of these great people.

During his time at Corner Bakery, Jeff led the charge for what was the 2nd and 3rd prototype for the concept. “We bring the food to you.” Jeff told me.

That was his passion, his vision. He knew he had a great product and he was fortunate to have this fantastic group of mentors that believed in him. Well, it took an incredible amount of commitment and hard work, but by the time Jeff was done with his time at Corner Bakery, there were now 40 units in Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and southern California.

By this time, all 40 of the Corner Bakery Units were now converted to the 3rd prototype that Jeff and Dave had envisioned. They were just hard working people, trying to get it right.

Well, like any great leader with natural ability, Jeff continued his lifelong learning. He moved to Washington DC to look after the Eastern Seaboard. And that became his last stop at Corner Bakery. It was time to move on.

In his next venture, Dave Wolfgram and Jeff Drake partnered on a fast casual concept called Go Roma Real Easy Italian. At the time, GESD Capital was looking for a new CEO for Boudin Bakery and Dave was being groomed for the job.

And so, GESD Capital acquired Go Roma and the management team as part of the new arrangement, and Jeff once again was deeply ingrained into the artisan bread business. Jeff became COO at Boudin and held that post from 2005 to 2007 and helped to prototype the new Boudin SF, which would become the new footprint for the brand.

Time passed and Jeff wanted to take his young family back east. He was offered the helm as President of Go Roma.

Of course, Jeff was not only enthusiastic, he had energy, experience and had learned from the best in the business. He was ready to be the head of his own ship! Well, as any great leader knows, things never go as planned, and what happened next was not only difficult, but most people I know would simply shrivel up and pack it in. The recession came. And with it, came tough days.

So, “What did you do?” I asked Jeff last week.

“We circled the wagons,” he told me.

This is an answer that any great leader would give. Go back to the basics. Focus on the vision. Take care of your people. Roll up your sleeves. Make difficult decisions.

And so, he focused on his real estate, reduced his G&A expenses and rallied his team to become leaner. He re-invented his organization. There was no easy path, but Jeff knew that from watching his mentors.

“What was the worst part of that experience?” I asked.

“We lost some great people” he shared with me sadly. “But we did what was necessary to weather the storm.”

Of course you did Jeff. Because that’s what great leaders do. They are accountable, just as you are. That’s what makes you so great! You are following in the footsteps of your mentors, your elders. I am proud of you for sticking to your guns.

“What was the key element that got you through the recession”, I continued on.

“I just focused on my communication to my key stakeholders” he retorted.

You see, all great leaders, like Jeff, do this naturally. They lead by example. They communicate well and they tell the truth, even when it hurts.

Jeff shared with me that one of the things that he is most proud of in his career, is that he did not lose ANY of his key people during the downturn. He kept their hopes high, reassured them that he was not going to bail on them and he led his ship. He included them in the results, incentivized them to work hard and provided them with ownership of their responsibilities as he empowered them to continue on.

He gave his team all the credit when I spoke to him. Because that’s what great leaders do. They don’t take the credit. Not ever.

Great leaders can only become great if they surround themselves with great followers. Great people. You see, Jeff learned from the greatest leaders that our industry has ever seen. These are Jeff’s mentors.

Jeff told me that he has been blessed to spend time with Richard Melman, Norman Brinker, Doug Brooks, Jim Vinz and Dave Wolfgram. I stopped him there because his list just kept going. “Blessed”, there’s that word again. Great leaders feel that way.

He sees his leadership responsibility today as focused on helping his team to prioritize.

“What you measure, is what you improve”, he told me.

He also told me that it’s his responsibility to set his team up for success. He focuses on promoting from within. He helps his people step up. He is an opportunity provider. He cares about his people, his customers and his brand. He has a positive attitude and is a student of life.

Jeff Drake is a solid person. He understands how his customers interact with social media. He understands technology. He treats his vendors with respect. He gets a lot out of his relationships by taking care of everyone. He keeps people whole. He is a master at that.

Jeff is a voracious reader. He believes that the restaurant business is a “business of evolution”. He is always looking for ways to innovate. He studies other industries as models and tries to bring new ideas into his business.

His commitment to self-improvement is awesome. He reads magazines like Lucky Peach, The New Yorker, Fast Company.

“To be an effective leader, I need to get better every day. I need to interact with people that are really good at what they do”. He shared with me.

There’s that natural leadership quality again.

“I look for genius and brilliance in my people every single day” he continued.

Of course you do Jeff. Jon Luther Sr. would agree with you.

If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Jeff Drake any day to be on the list of the next generation of leaders that will change the food industry. Why? Because he is focused on his higher purpose of making the world a better place just by doing what he loves.

Jeff, thanks for all you do for our industry. You deserve all you have! Thank you for being a great and generous leader. For those of you reading this, keep an eye on Jeff Drake. He’ll be running a $1 Billion business one day. I am certain of it!